Kaiju Rising

Seeing as though the review for this anthology was so voluminous that it encompassed five reviews, I've decided to consolidate them all here so you can see all the stories in one place.

First, the original links:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Now, the actual reviews:

Big Ben and the End of the Pier Show by James Lovegrove (20pgs):
The opening story in the anthology, Big Ben and the End of the Pier Show gives off a real "Pacific Rim" type vibe. There is a rampaging kaiju, and a country-specific robot to defend against it (here called "KRV"s - Kaiju Response Vehicles). The storytelling is fun, and the action is solid. Lovegrove wisely puts the right amount of humor, never going overboard.
What the story lacks, however, is a sympathetic human linchpin. Not to say that all kaiju tales need a human character to evoke emotion. Not at all. But, in this story, while we are introduced to a human lead, not much is done with him. His involvement bookends the story. Ergo, we have no real concern for the Pier Show, or what happens to it.
Again, the main stars here - Big Ben (the KRV) and Red Devil (the kaiju) shine in their own right. Their climactic battle is very satisfying.
The end, however, is another story. I outright hated the ending. It is very tacked-on, and saccharine beyond compare. Not to mention that it isn't grounded in any conceivable logic. There are a few jabs by Lovegrove throughout the story at soulless corporations that bully others due to excess capital, and yet, at the end we are supposed to buy that the government is capable of grand benevolence and generosity? Ok. Giant monsters are more believable than that any day of the week.
In the end, big Ben and the End of the Pier Show is like a monster movie DVD that works best when you fast forward over the talky bits and just watch the action.
Score: 6.5/10

The Conversion by David Annandale (20pgs):
Let me just lay it out there before I get into the review itself: this story blew me away. Veteran Warhammer 40K scribe Annandale flexes some serious horror chops in a splendid kaiju tale about a creature, very aptly named the Eschaton, unleashing biblical Hell upon England.
Written in a very dark tone, and interspersed throughout with stanzas from William Blake's powerful poem "Jerusalem", The Conversion is a seriously character-driven story that goes beyond the monster and destruction and focuses on a more powerful force: faith.
Anchoring the human portion of The Conversion (quite well too) is Joyce Caldwell, a Brigadier General in the British Army. Caldwell is a well-rounded character; she is strong, shrewd, caring, and soul-crushingly weary. She has seen firsthand the evils of both man and monster in the seven years since the Eschaton first arrived. And now, she finds herself tasked with maintaining a last line of defense in Manchester, knowing full well the ultimate futility of it. For, you see, England is one of the last stops on the Eschaton's world tour. It is known that no weapon known to man has yet had any impact on the creature. Plus, there is nowhere left for the residents to evacuate to.
Adding to Caldwell's stress is the constant harrying of her religious fanatic brother, Sam Bickford, a strong leader of masses who have found that faith is the only thing they have left to cling to. Bickford has a plan that he is sure will work. And a lot of it hinges on Caldwell giving him something that she does not believe is at her disposal...
On the monster side, I absolutely love the Eschaton. Annandale wisely portrays this walking doomsday as an exercise in contradictory appearance, with ultimate lethality being the only constant. I really don't throw this term around casually, but the first appearance of the creature was literally frightening.
Another aspect that was done extremely well was portraying size and geography. Instead of just talking about stomping and smashing, Annandale gives you a real sense of the mass of the Eschaton; the length of its strides and a feeling of being an insignificant human gazing up at more than thirty stories of ambulatory doom. Also, he really brings the landscape to life, making you feel the loss of destroyed landmarks, instead of just name dropping famous targets. And finally, Annandale also pens the best description of "death breath" that I have read yet (I know, there are many more stories to come).
All of these things add up to a great story, but just as important is the underlying message; and that is a message about faith. Whether you are religious or fall into the secular side of society, faith is an integral aspect; faith in humanity, faith in what is truly right and wrong, and faith in the truth of some sort of higher power. It may be easy to turn from a name recorded in a book, but not so much the physical embodiment of the End of Times. What a great story.
Score: 10/10

Day of the Demigods by Peter Stenson (14pgs):
And now for some unquestionably lighter fare. Peter Stenson's Day of the Demigods tells the story of Sweetgrass, a self-loathing son of a whore kaiju turned 'roider who decides to make his mark in Hollywood.
Stenson plays up the obvious comic ramifications of that absurd premise, but there is more here. He also hits the mark on many aspects of the self-loathing stigma that affects personalities lacking in self-esteem and confidence. It's just that the snarky tone makes it hilarious too.
There's not much else to say here; it's a pretty short tale. Sweetgrass' big stomping moment is done very well; and the first person narrative really shines here. You get a real idea of his frustration as what he thought was a given (that the people would be happy to see him) doesn't go as well as planned, like pretty much everything else in his life. After the dark mood of The Conversion, Demigods supplied some much needed levity.
Warning: a lot of cursing and sexual references. Be prepared if that isn't your thing.
Score: 8/10

The Lighthouse Keeper of Kurohaka Island by Kane Gilmour (28pgs):
On an uncharted island off the coast of Japan, a father indoctrinates his son into the family business; keepers of a lighthouse on this peculiar landmass. As he shows him around, they open up to each other about another family secret, a special talent gifted upon first-born sons: the ability to see monsters.
What follows is a family flashback that serves as an alternate history account of what really happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For, even though only the gifted can see the kaiju of this world, they can apparently leave tangible damage.
There are some things that really work in Lighthouse Keeper. Gilmour does a serviceable job with the writing, and he excels when depicting the creatures. He tries to add some valid detail of what Japan looked like in the 40's as well, which is admirable. In fact, as far as details are concerned, the destruction scene plays out something like this video:

Minus anyone going Super Saiyan, of course.

That's all well and good. Characters here are nothing spectacular. The skill of sight is a fine novelty and all. 
But there are some annoyances too. One is repetition. Gilmour restates the specifics of the firstborn son gift time and again, plus another instance of repeating blatantly telegraphs any surprise that might have been contained in the last few lines. Also, some descriptive terms aren't integrated as seamlessly as they could've been. For example, we learn that there is a wide diaspora of kaiju sizes, which makes sense. Fine. Then, later on, as the giant monsters are fighting, there is a line referring to them as "omega-class" kaiju. Wait...so these creatures that most normal people cannot even see now have official designations? Doesn't make sense. 
Also, another pet peeve of mine is when an author discovers a word they like about halfway through the narrative and then uses it a little too liberally. One of the combatants here is a giant, two-headed snake creature. A good deal into the battle, Gilmour describes it as ouroboros-like. From then on, he keeps referring to it as an "ouroboros". Not for nothing, but for most readers, the term ouroboros does not denote "serpentine", it more implies "self-devouring". If the creature in the story wrapped itself around, it would be French kissing itself, not eating.
All things aside though, the monster action is good here. The kaiju concepts are solid, and the "good" kaiju has many shades of under-appreciated daikaiju icon Gamera. Actually, I was wondering how deep the Gamera comparisons went, especially since one of the death scenes involved a rather useless, portly youth...
"If you can't save them all, let the annoying ones go first." ~what Darwin should have said.

Not bad, but not reinventing the wheel either.
Score: 6.5/10

Occupied by Natania Barron (18 pgs):
Five stories in, and Occupied by Natania Barron is the most fiercely original kaiju piece yet. The creature featured in this tale is not a product of nature, but a writhing amalgamation of fallen angels (drawing inspiration from the Book of Enoch) awoken from a million year slumber.
The concept of angels as a destructive force is a brilliant stroke, somewhat reminiscent of the Angels of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Barron writes with wonderful style that will haunt you for a good while after reading. The first pages focus on a two-sided dynamic between creator and creation, although it seems more "awaker" and "awakened". Barron does not waste time with lengthy expository background setting; she cleverly weaves the notions of how the society operates through well-places cues.
All of this builds up to a pretty stirring climax; one that is well imagined and greatly realized.
Barron does her creations a great service by fully realizing them; these fallen angels have such a wide range of emotions; fear, sadness, anger, passion. This investment in creating the characters allows the reader greater investment in sympathizing with them. Tell me after reading this that you cannot personally feel Penemue's excitement upon release, fears for the damage his brothers may cause, and his urgency in his attempts to stop them.
Dark, poetic, evocative, and moody, are some of the words that first come to mind when describing this tale. But also beautiful. For all the dark, frightening images, there is true beauty here. Beauty terrible to behold. Very, very good story.
Score: 9/10

One Last Round by Nathan Black (36pgs):
One of the nice backing options this Kickstarter offered was a chance to submit your own story. There were, I believe, three available slots, and this is the first one.

What Nathan Black offers here is a homage to all the great Ultraman type tokusatsu shows of old. In this story, one can guess that kaiju attacks occur with some frequency. Also, things are at a point where not only are kaiju movies, featuring authentic kaiju response type robots, a thing, but they are also waning in popularity. In this short, a team of robot pilots, taken out of commission by the government bureaucracies that be, reassemble to try and stop a rampant crocodilian kaiju from leveling New Orleans.

Ok, first of all, congratulations to Nathan Black for getting his work published. There is no better reward for a backer than finding their own work in the finished product. Now, as for the story itself, it's pretty rough. The characters are pretty simple, but I took that as intentional, since this reads like a tokusatsu episode. Just like in those shows, most of the team members fall into standard templates. There is a mouthy rebel type, quick with his fists, a tough, beautiful female member, and an overweight one with a heart of gold.

The winning angles are the kaiju, Grimmgarl, and KRASER, the robot that heads off to do battle with her. Black's descriptions of both are very solid, and he has conceived his kaiju very well.

Also in this tale is Colonel Ausum, who satisfies the Ultraman element as the hero who can transform to kaiju size. What we get mostly of him is a vivid portrayal of his uniform, and well-described descriptions of his special attacks. Two things, however, would have made Ausum more, well, awesome. First would have been even a paragraph or two of backstory on him, letting us know who he is as a hero. Second, one of the things that makes Ultraman exciting is that they use professional martial artists in the suits. There is mention of one of his attacks being an ax kick, but other than that, tying his attack combos to an actual martial arts style would've helped a lot.

Now, the aspect of this story that I personally feel needed the most help is in regards to location. I'm just throwing this out there as a reader's observation. In the beginning of the story, there is some commentary on the toughness of New Orleans and its residents. Ok, fine. Great jumping point. However, after this, there is absolutely no sense that this story takes place there. There are plenty of iconic neighborhoods and architecture in New Orleans, an author should have had a field day letting a monster destroy it. The point is; if the resiliency of a certain area is at the heart of your story, then you should show us how the facade can be destroyed, but the spirit never broken.

Even in kaiju and tokusatsu films, specific cities and areas are recognizable in the model work.

Now, this might seem like a lot of criticism, but the story was still fun, and I'd read another story with this group in a heartbeat. Plus, the kaiju was excellent. HachiSnax Note: Just realized that Grimmgarl is, in fact, a creature from the Colossal Kaiju Combat universe.
Score: 5/10

The Serpent's Heart by Howard Andrew Jones (27pgs):
Jones writes pulp-style stories featuring Cossack/Middle Eastern protagonists in the vein of Harold Lamb. The Serpent's Heart is a good example of this. In this tale, we follow the surviving members of a ship sent by the caliph to kill a sea serpent which has been attacking merchant vessels. Told in the first person by the bodyguard of the scholar (Asim and Dabir of Jones' Desert of Souls series) sent to head up this expedition, the story follows the group as they are rescued by a fearsome Chinese alchemist who has plans of her own regarding the creature.

A little bit SPOILER-Y: What I really like about this story is how Jones turns this "olden times" story into a kaiju vs. mech tale. The characters and dialogue are engaging and enjoyable; the scenes with the diabolical Lady Xin and her dread ship are a blast. In fact, the only thing anti-climactic was the sea serpent itself.

All in all a fun little pulp throwback that evokes the adventures of Sinbad.
Score: 8/10

Monstruo by Mike MacLean (17 pgs):
Short but sweet is the best way to describe this tale by screenwriter MacLean. In MacLean's world, the invading kaiju are weapons of mass destruction utilized by aliens. However, they require a form of intellectual remote control, via a human host. Thus, we have creepy little hatchlings a la Alien which infect the unlucky target.

The story is seen, for the most part, through the eyes of Lieutenant Grimes, a tough Marine who specializes in eliminating these hosts, thereby severing the control. The problem is; the monster that arrives in Mexico where he is vacationing has been tethered to a host who happens to be a nine year old boy.

So, for the duration of the story, we alternate between Grimes and Carlito, the young boy. Grimes faces a pretty harsh dilemma; kill the kid or let millions die. This kind of scenario forces itself on your emotional heartstrings with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but you tend to not mind when it is written well. And Monstruo is written well. The characters aren't deep, but they are recognizable and well-written. The action pops off the page. Best of all, the details of the kaiju are excellent and terrifying; from the great description of its terrible shriek, to the stomach-churning description of the smell it emits. Good stuff.
Score: 8.5/10

The Behemoth by Jonathan Wood (31 pgs):
Next up, we have another story that has a tandem theme to it. This time, it is on the side of the mech operators. In The Behemoth, which takes place in Chicago some hundred-odd years in the future, mechs are a defense mechanism against the Leviathans, kaijus released from the melted ice caps.

Piloting a mech in this world is extremely taxing on the body; so, to absorb the brunt of this physical and emotional toll, proxies are used. There is no sugar-coating it; proxies are effectively punishment sponges. There is no skill involved in the job; and, since no one in their right mind would volunteer for the job, a lottery is held.

In the midst of this world is our protagonist, Tyler. This is his story, and it is told in the style of fractured flashbacks. It chronicles his rise to being a pilot, and his struggles with substance abuse. Unfortunately, Tyler is the ultimate functioning drug addict; and the drugs make him a better pilot than he ever could have been on his own.

Tyler also has Lila, his emotional core and support. In love since first meeting in High School, she has always been his rock. This all falls to pieces when she receives her "winning" lottery ticket....

This is another story that packs the emotional schmaltz on with the world's largest shovel, but it is written so damn well. The narration is great; angry, bitter, emotional. The violence is solid, and the mech and kaiju properly awe-inspiring. And, the love that tries to hold on despite all the hardships; if that doesn't evoke a strong feeling, then you probably don't have a heart.

Great stuff, knockout ending.
Score: 9.5/10

The Greatest Hunger by Jaym Gates (13 pgs):
Another short entry in the game here, Gates pens a dark tale of a world in which kaiju started appearing after World War II and quickly became a commodity for greedy capitalists. Now, kaiju fight in battle pits, working alongside a handler. However, the protagonist here, a handler herself, has a dark secret all her own. She possesses frightening powers that extend far beyond the kaiju empathy that those around her can see.

The Greatest Hunger has a lofty, legitimate premise and some poetic, lurid writing. However, it didn't quite seal the deal. The imagery of the time period isn't fully optimized, and it features multiple occurrences of one of my pet peeves - expository parenthetical statements (especially given that this is a first-person POV).

The main character's kaiju, Derecho, is well realized, and there is some real imagination behind some of the other creatures. Plus, some wickedly sensual situations bolster what we have. But, again, take that final reveal; and, in a story as compact as this, that message should have been driven in like a nail into the temple.
Score: 6.5/10

Heartland by Shane Berryhill (23 pgs):
There is something rotten going on in the town of Heartland, located in America's heartland. This much is known from the get-go, as we meet desperate mother Carol Blevins, gun in hand, and husband handcuffed to the fridge. A complete and total egress from Heartland with her kids in tow is on the agenda, but what is the motivating cause?

And, how much credence can be given to a woman with such an extensive history of mental illness and reliance on anti-psychotic medication?

Heartland is a well conceived and executed story, which in the end is delivered in a fairly predictable manner. It's a shame; especially since the idea is that even though there is the promise of a kaiju, the real monster lies within us.

My main problem is that the story is told in way to straightforward a manner. Berryhill could have optimized Carol as the ultimate unreliable narrator: is she a woman with a legitimate concern who has finally "woken up", or is she a drugged-out menace to herself and her children? Some real, completely palpable tension could've been whipped up from that scenario, leaving readers on the edges of their seats. So why not? Is it to avoid portraying the mentally ill in a poor light? Maybe.

Either way; everything is rendered well, the characters are a bit cookie cutter, but a very satisfying payoff.

Side note: I am not an expert on these meds, but from what I know Zoloft is an anti-depressant that doesn't necessarily leave you "jonesing" for a dose. Missing a few days of it will not have a dramatic effect. If Carol was feeling that level of desperation for something to calm herself, she'd probably be looking for anti-anxiety medicine like Xanax.
Score: 7/10

Devil's Cap Brawl by Edward M. Erdelac (26 pgs):
This was a fun one. Devil's Cap Brawl is set in the Dead West universe (also published by Ragnarok, I've read a bit of the first book - Those Poor, Poor, Bastards - and really enjoyed it).

In this story, workers for a railroad baron literally unearth a long-buried miscreant monster as they go about blasting through the titular mountain. Luckily for them, they find that they have a rather unconventional ally on their side. I really don't want to get too much into it, for the sake of avoiding spoilers.

The writing here, as in the other Dead West books, is balls to the wall and full throttle. A lot of the stories in this anthology have curses, but this takes it to a new level, peppered throughout with some quite politically incorrect language. The fact that the protagonists nickname was bestowed upon him for the sheer volume of blasphemous language he uses is one clue. The fact that he is also a brash, back street brawling Irishman in the 1800's in charge of Indians and Chinamen should give you another hint of what kind of language is in store.

Erdelac does a great job in painting the scenery, fleshing out his monster, and choreographing the action. I had a bit of trouble at first with the "good guy", but he made it work. This story is the badass bastard offspring of the frantic coupling of classic Western pulp tales and good old fashioned giant monster stories.
Score: 9.5/10

Shaktarra by Sean Sherman (18 pgs):
Here we have the second story submitted by a Kickstarter backer. At first, I really did not care much for this story at all; but it kind of lingers with you, and you can see the pure heartfelt fun that serves as the underpinnings for the goings-on. That doesn't mean that the short story isn't pretty raw.

There are some truly weird things happening in Vegas. Even by Vegas standards. An EMP has shut down everything, and an ominous green haze hovers across the horizon. Two friends, Craig and Leslie, decide to head into this alien "forest". At the same time, a giant creature heads out of it, and begins to rampage through Vegas.

Ok, I really hate to be critical, but there are a few things that didn't sit right with me, as a reader. The dynamic between the two leads is never clarified or solidified; a notion of what constituted their bond would have helped immensely; be it work, long-term friendship, or relationship/flirtation. Second, there is a little too much narrative convenience going on here. Craig and Leslie are seemingly the only ones heading for this green alien light? And they just so happen to enter the forest at such a close proximity to the home of the elder of the alien race?

Also, the mechanics of the EMP attack are a little fuzzy. Did it render everything within it's range useless permanently? Was there a lingering EMP effect remaining? If so, how could the military move in?

I really don't want to keep nitpicking on small issues, however. Point is, when I finished the story, I really didn't like it. It just wasn't the type of story that appealed to me; and I didn't care for the tie dye and psychedelic monsters. The way the aliens were presented didn't do much for me either.

Then you get to the good stuff. This is another fan piece that is quite clearly made with love. Sherman tries to inject some levity into to proceedings as well. As a kaiju, Shaktarra is done nicely; and that is what really matters. Also, Sherman makes a clever choice in allowing his monster to rampage through Vegas -  it allows the creature a chance to destroy a slew of landmarks without leaving the area.

In the end, Shaktarra does not work as a short story. It works as a proposal for some sort of a visual piece; this might have made a nifty comic, cartoon or TV show. However, as a narrative work, its shortcomings are too glaring and it ultimately dooms it.
Score: 4.5/10

Of the Earth, of the Sky, of the Sea by Patrick M. Tracy and Paul Genesse (32 pgs):
For this little slice of alternate historical fiction, we move to Japan near the end of the Tokugawa Era. We meet a priestess named Shinobu as she confers with General Tokugawa Ichiro on how to repel hordes of gaijin invaders from Britain and the Netherlands. Ichiro knows that Shinobu heads up a triumvirate of priestesses that hold the key to unleashing Japan's most lethal tools of self-defense: ancient dragons, tied the the very elements of the land itself. With these creatures presenting the only tangible defense against the steampunk-inspired onslaught of metal ships, dirigible bombers, and men in mech-suits, Shinobu and Ichiro must decide if these uncontrollable forces of nature are worth unleashing.

So, this story has a lot of good things going for it. It is amazing, conceptually. It also manages to pack a large amount of kaiju into a small story. The action is pretty great, especially as the kaiju clash against the West's steampunk monstrosities.

However, for all of these good points, there is a lack of soul here. The characters and characterization is paper thin. It is as if Tracy and Genesse wrote their Japanese characters as Far East mystical Yodas with a perennial BGM of bamboo flutes.

There is no realness to Shinobu's account. I would think that someone who helped orchestrate the residual carnage would relay their account with a little more hardness, hurt, and shame; not flowery, fortune-cookie prose.

Either way, however, the good far outshines the bad here. I just wish we'd have seen a little more of the invaders up close and personal. There were so many interesting elements introduced for them.
Score: 7/10

The Flight of the Red Monsters by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (9 pgs):
This is another of those very short tales that manages to pack a mean punch. The titular Red Monsters are simple in presentation; little more than giant lobsters from the ocean depths. However, they excel in execution. Stufflebeam turns their tale into a migration/revenge tale; and then creates direct parallels to the story of a young woman affected by the swarm of lobster kaiju. We have excellent first-person POVs for both Maria (the young girl), and one of the Reds. This gives us an opportunity to see how dramatic events sent them both on pilgrimages, and then missions of revenge.

Then, in the end, after a huge mutual realization, we come to a deviously ambiguous ending. Really don't want to give away more in what makes for a wonderful ten minute reading.
Score: 9/10

Operation Starfish by Peter Rawlik (16 pgs):
With Operation Starfish, Peter Rawlik presents a kaiju story steeped in Lovecraftian influence. Told in the form of a letter penned by a man losing his grip on his sanity, it recounts a government experiment conducted in the 60's to strike back against "invading" monsters (as is commonly done, Rawlik wisely ties kaiju events to real life historical occurrences).

The Lovecraft touch is strong in this tale. Rawlik focuses on the tragic hubris on man's actions; and his monsters, while terrifying, garner that quality not from frightening depictions, but by their inherent "wrongness" and incongruity with our perceived reality. This is all bolstered by a strong writing style that truly puts the reader in the action. One of the few tales that actually frightened me a bit.

If I were to list one complaint with the story, it is that Rawlik does not maintain the level of the narrator's lunacy from start to finish. Instead, the displays of madness is remanded to the bookends of the very beginning and very ending. I'm assuming this was to allow more accessible expository description in the bulk of the narrative. How great would it have been if the entire story had been one manic rant, forcing the reader to parse the actual information from the ramblings. Either way, a very solid, scary tale.
Score: 8.5/10

With Bright Shining Faces by J.C. Koch (18 pgs):
I'll say right off the bat, this one might get my nod for most original story in the anthology. Also, there isn't much that I can elaborate on in the review without getting spoiler-y.

In a small town near the Gulf of Mexico, a schoolteacher watches as a peculiar student (peculiar, yet popular) holds her peers enraptured by a succession of monster doodles. And yet, even the teacher, Mrs. George, has to admit that there is something odd about the pictures when viewed in the periphery. Almost as if they are alive....

Even with a setup like this, I had no idea where this story would actually be going. All I can say is that it is outlandish, audacious, and fun.

With Bright Shining Faces is also bolstered by a great writing style. Koch has a real knack for detailing scenery and rendering real characters. Mrs.George is a full-fledged person, made very real over the course of a few pages; a capable teacher and good-hearted person stuck in a failing marriage.

All in all, weird and wonderful.
Score: 9/10

The Banner of the Bent Cross by Peter Clines (24 pgs):
During World War II, an esteemed group of historians are called in to solve the riddle of a mysterious Nazi ship that had appeared and began cutting swaths through Allied vessels. Once they determine that the ship is an artifact straight out of Greek mythology, they propose an equally fantastic, yet considerably more dangerous, potential solution.

Banner of the Bent Cross has an exciting concept. It's execution has a definite cinematic flair to it. This story reads like a throwback to those high-adventure, richly color-saturated Technicolor movies of the 60's.

While most of the kaiju action occurs off-page, the descriptions of the creatures is fantastic and terrifying.

Where the story suffers, however, is in the characters. None of the characters really escalate above a comfortable trope level (with the exception of the treasure hunter character Carter, aka The Roman). I understand that the players here are truly focused on the mission at hand; but there is nothing here to make them sympathetic.

Lastly, one thing that really would have snagged the reader from the get-go would have been a scene showing the Argo itself in action, letting us see this mythical ship in action against a modern day warship. An ancient craft tearing a mechanical colossus to ribbons. But that's just my opinion.
Score: 7/10

Fall of Babylon by James Maxey (28 pgs):
Even though David Annandale's entry had some biblical overtones to it, it was inevitable that somewhere in this anthology there would be an entry that drew on Revelations. Fall of Babylon is that story. In Fall of Babylon, a young man finds himself embroiled in no less than the Apocalypse as the literal Lamb of God does battle with his sister, a internet star turned pop idol turned manifestation of Babylon.

I have to say; the interpretation and incorporation of Biblical elements from the Book of Revelations that we witness here is amazing. Maxey paints the apocalyptic landscape (a realm shift of the spirit world over Earth, with the action taking place in the Big Apple) is vivid colors and torrential blood rains. And his representation of the Lamb of God as a kaiju is awe-inspiring.

As for characters, this really isn't my cup of tea. Dan, who provides the first person perspective, is set to perennial snark. And it's not just him; this whole story is steeped in snark and sarcasm. When it becomes the general tone, as it does here, there is no chance for immersion, or to generate a bond with the characters. It's kind of like watching a Tarantino movie; everybody talks the same, and soon you realize, it's not different characters at all; it's the author speaking through different mouths. And that detracts from the overall effect.

But, for visuals, an overall superb conceptual framework, and a truly imaginative take on the Biblical elements, you can't beat it.
Score: 8/10

Dead Men's Bones by Josh Reynolds (22 pgs):
The second of entries submitted by Black Library veterans, Dead Men's Bones takes place during one of my favorite periods to read about: World War I. In it, a trio of specialists (Britain's Royal Occultist, his assistant, and an American mystic man/soldier), investigate strange goings-on in an abandoned medieval castle in France. What they find is a horror beyond imagining, made undeniably real.

I've read a few of Reynolds' stories, and I usually find them to be great on visuals and action, with the characterizations relying more on witty dialogue than actual substance. This is the case here, as well. The occultist trio rely far too much on quips, and not all of them hit home (throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks). However, I enjoyed them enough that I would gladly read further adventures featuring them.

As for the monster, this might be my favorite in the book. What we have here is a colossus cobbled together from the dead in a vast German laboratory. The depiction of this beast, who emerges prematurely, with his skin perpetually sloughing off, and emanating a noxious cloud of mustard gas, is no less than terrifying. Reynolds took the old adage "War is Hell" and made its message frighteningly corporeal.

The action here is localized; one can only imagine a story where groups of these creatures roam the trenches of the Western Front, unleashing unholy horror.
Score: 9/10

Stormrise by Erin Hoffman (26 pgs):
Although this is technically both a mech and a kaiju story, the real focus of Stormrise is self-aware digital intelligence. Erin Hoffman creates a fierce and fun short story in which a digital intelligence becomes aware, names itself Keto, and decides to demonstrate to the organic, human intelligence that she is more qualified to be their steward. A digital, benevolent overlord if you will.

Caught up in this are Keto's programmer/creator Sandra, who is working the damage control angle for the corporation that helped create Keto, and Airi, a renegade flyer person (actually, her job title isn't really specified), who becomes Keto's ward/captive.

Set in 2154, this story nicely highlights a kind of saturation point of human dependence on technology, to the point where we essentially have a HUD of sorts implanted in us. Hoffman effectively postulates how easily this could be used against us should the machines rise; how simple it would be to read our moves and deploy countermeasures before we take a single step. Hoffman does it so well that you don't even care that there isn't a giant monster or robot stomping about.

The concept is great, the characters are great, the execution is great. Hoffman crams a lot of elements, and realizes them fully, without leaving the story feeling overstuffed. In a perfect world, this story could've been stretched to a 50-60 page novella. Also, the ending leaves you begging for the sequel. I checked the Mech anthology lineup to see if one was listed, but alas, there isn't. Here's hoping we see more of these characters one day.

Big Dog by Timothy W. Long (27 pgs):
Really nice military mech vs. kaiju actionfest here. This story takes place right after the end of World War II as we know it. Here, the Japanese have allied themselves with alien intelligence, the kaijus, and it is up to a united American/European front (included a beaten Germany) to save the day. The action here takes place in Saipan, as the titular mech, a new weapon in the war against monsters, is getting the acid test, and being tasked with retrieving a kaiju biological sample.

Our protagonist here is Commander Katie Cord, a tough and capable Air Force pilot turned mech commander. Long does a nice job in fleshing her out; giving her a deep rooted animosity towards her former Nazi assistant, Glaus (due in a large part to his being a former tank commander, while Cord's fiance was killed in a tank).

Long's depiction of the kaijus, their appearance, characteristics, and weaponry, is effective, imaginative, and bizarre.

The real winner here is his description of working within the Big Dog. This is a clunky, awkward monstrosity, and its primitive technology coupled with the chaos of battle make piloting it a living hell. Long really conveys that feeling of trying to successfully maneuver an ungodly mechanical construct against unearthly monsters.

So what we have is a pretty standard narrative framework, with a fairly predictable outcome, bolstered by great execution, vivid conceptualization, and blistering action. And I always say that even the most trope-y storyline is still fun when done right. Big Dog proves that.
Score: 8.5/10

The Great Sea Beast by Larry Correia (23 pgs):
Now we move on to a pretty dark redemption story from 12th Century Japan. As a boy, Nasu Munetaka survived an encounter with the titular monster, and that was only the beginning of his misery. The injuries he sustains in the incident cause him to grow up small and weak, causing him to be considered useless in a court that refuses to acknowledge what occurred. Instead, the blame is placed on his father, who is labeled in death as a drunken incompetent. Alone and dishonored, Nasu feels despondent. That is, until he discovers one talent he possesses: a deadly acumen with the bow.

Years later, Nasu has a new sense of worth, as a veteran archer of many feudal conflicts with an impressive kill tally. Working from some newly uncovered intelligence, he leverages his clout into an expedition to discover and kill the creature which ruined his life so many years ago.

Correia tells a great tale here. He's done his historical research into the period, and he paints it with a vivid brush. Our 'hero', Nasu, is a driven man. He is not one for kindness, or consideration. He has been galvanized by a life of hardship to a sort of pinnacle of single-mindedness. This might make him hard to like, but I found his utter realness refreshing.

On top of that, you get a fairly terrifying kaiju, and some great, bloody action. I really liked this story.
Score: 9/10

Animikii vs. Mishipeshu by C.L. Werner (29 pgs):
This is a story I was really looking forward too. Not only is Werner a solid and prolific Black Library scribe, he is also a known kaijuphile (check out his Godzilla vs. Cthulhu fanfic). What he presents here is without a doubt the purest example of a kaiju vs. kaiju brawl in this entire anthology.

Following a nifty little intro that sets the scene, and dispatches with the only real human presence in the story (a sleazy corporate type), Werner unleashes two massive beasts from Ojibwe myth: Animikii, the Thunderbird, and Mishipeshu, the Water-Panther. What ensues is some stomping action followed by an all-out monster battle.

With the kaiju being the focus here, Werner meticulously details the appearance of each. With Mishipeshu, he deflty combines the lizard-like and feline traits to craft a lethal hunter-killer. And with Animikii, the physical traits render him something not unlike veteran kaiju Rodan (although with an electricity based beam weapon instead of the fire Rodan employed in Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II). I've always loved Rodan, but there was always something about him that didn't translate well in the movies. You knew he could create devastating wind attacks with his enormous wings, but it always just looked silly to see him standing there flapping them. In the story, Werner portrays the enormity of an attack like that excellently.

The descriptions are vivid, and the special weapons are done well. The action itself plays out with a blow-by-blow analysis. All in all, Animikii vs. Mishipeshu is the epitome of what this anthology is all about.
Score: 9.5/10

The Turn of the Card by James Swallow (37 pgs):
The last story in the anthology is also penned by the last of the Black Library scribes. James Swallow's involvement in Kaiju Rising was one of the stretch goals, and it is based in the Colossal Kaiju Combat universe.

This turns out to be another one of those stories that is paper thin on premise, but solid in execution. In Turn of the Card, we follow a London Police helicopter crew as they try to make sense of the sudden appearance of multiple kaiju in the Queen's stomping grounds. The lead character, a tough girl with a troubled part named Hannah Brook, decides to impulsively take the chopper into the city (which has been earmarked to be leveled in an attempt to stop the monsters) to rescue the uncle who raised her. Said uncle is holed up in the British Museum, and may hold a key to understanding what has allowed these creatures to run amok. Also, there is the persistent, underlying feeling that Hannah has some sort of tether to the goings-on.

All of this is just a set-up to letting these monsters unleash hell. Swallow packs a lot of the CKC kaiju into this story. He does a bang-up job describing them realistically as well; especially seeing as though a lot of them look pretty cartoony in the game. That's what he excels at, though. Swallow also has a true director's eye when it comes to staging the action. He gives us a multitude of perspectives; from shaky phone cam footage, to aerial shots, to on the ground views reminding us just how small man is in the face of these terrors.

The human characters are likable and easy to relate to. The kaijus chosen (I believe there was open voting to pick which ones would appear) are interesting, and Swallow does them service fleshing them out. Here's hoping he one day does a full length CKC tie-in novel.
Score: 8.5/10

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